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Monday, April 22, 2024

Interview with tp bennett’s Principal Director Caterina Polidoro

Caterina Polidoro, Principal Director at tp bennett, is committed to creating inclusive spaces that positively impact the built environment, flourishing the industry with her integrity and grace.

Caterina “Katia” Polidoro is an architect, urban designer, and a Principal Director at global firm tp bennett. Katia has twenty five years’ experience working on a wide range of projects from large-scale masterplanning and regeneration schemes through to architecture and interior design.

The Floral, Covent Garden – Shaftesbury Capital

In the UK, Katia’s work has focused on transformational mixed-use developments, including High Street Quarter and Cavalry Barracks in Hounslow, the Rochdale Riverside retail and leisure quarter near Manchester and the re-imagining of Rackhams department store in Birmingham, as well as the regeneration of Luton and Camberley town centres. Katia has also been responsible for a number of international projects.

As a member of the architectural NGOs Article 25 (Development & Disaster Relief) and Architecture Sans Frontières UK, Katia has been involved in community and regeneration work overseas. She is actively involved in mentorship programmes within tp bennett and externally with RIBA and Westminster University.

Camberley Town Centre | Kier Property

Here, Italian-born Katia discusses her design journey, from early childhood memories and studies in her native country to her impressive and evolving career, which spans over two decades and covers a wide range of global projects. 

What is your earliest memory of design and architecture?

Family holidays were my introduction to architecture and design. Our holidays always involved a trip to a notable building, whether historical or modern, and often the location was picked for its aesthetic value – it runs in the blood!

Medieval towns have been a firm favourite of mine since I was little. I particularly love the organic rhythm and the human scale of Italian villages.

In my teenage years, my parents took me and my brother on a trip to London, and on the itinerary was a visit to the Barbican estate. I still remember the sense of awe I felt as I walked through the spaces. I couldn’t quite understand it at the time, but it asserts a certain power and the narrative behind its creation – of a city within a city, with a wide palette of architectural references – has definitely grown on me.

Camberley Town Centre – Kier Property

Where did you study?

I studied at La Sapienza in Rome and then as an Erasmus student at Westminster University where I was tutored by David Greene of Archigram. That year changed my life. I loved the lateral thinking David instilled in me, challenging the more traditional architectural upbringing I had in Rome. I really relished the melting pot of ideas coming from my peers all of whom had such diverse backgrounds.

What kind of architect did you aspire to be?

I have always strived to be an architect who designs spaces that are both beautiful and equitable.

I was raised in a politically minded family, which engrained a strong sense of social commitment in me and with it, the will to make a lasting positive impact on the built environment and the world in general. I chose to largely work on buildings and places that everyone can use and enjoy such as town centre regeneration developments.

For me, creating well-designed, inclusive places to live in and fair and inclusive places to work in equate to the same thing. It’s a matter of integrity.

Cavalry Barracks, Hounslow

Who are your design/architecture inspirations?

I take inspiration from many different sources – from the world of art to historical references to the organic forms found in nature. I also enjoy the well-placed sense of humour and playfulness that many ultra-modern buildings offer, the likes of Markthal in Rotterdam designed by MVRDV for example.

In my practice, I don’t believe in being limited to one style or design language. I believe great architecture sensitively considers its context and the scale required. Architecture must be functional but also inspirational, both good for the body and the soul.

High Street Quarter ©Hufton+Crow

What does tp bennett represent as an architecture firm?

I share with tp bennett the belief that you must be true to your values inside and outside the practice and always endeavour to imagine better.

Founded in the UK in 1921, we feel privileged to have a legacy that spans more than 100 years and collectively, we strive to impact the built environment positively.

Our people are the crux of our business. I lead tp bennett’s mentoring programme, collaborating with external organisations that do amazing advocacy for greater Equality and Diversity within the industry. Guidance, support and mentoring ensure we are a diverse and inclusive practice better able to respond purposefully to an ever-evolving society.

How do you continue to carve your own path in the industry as a studio and an individual?

Our approach is to adapt and respond to societal issues together. It’s important to continually learn, not just from our industry, but from all the various disciplines all around us to ensure we are not autoreferential.  Architecture is a very complex discipline, with a final product that is used by real people.

Understanding a multi-generational and diverse society coupled with environmental needs and new technologies is pivotal in differentiating us and providing resilient and long-term solutions that respond to practical, social and emotional needs. We have been leading the market with our blended living expertise and this is becoming extremely relevant for our town centre and mixed-use schemes where one living solution doesn’t necessarily fit all. This can be seen across our projects, from our residential scheme in Alperton with both residential and co-living to Garrison Circus in Birmingham with both refurbished and new BTR units and accommodation for students.

High Street Quarter – ©Hufton+Crow

Where is the majority of your work based?

We are headquartered in the UK with offices in London, Manchester and Leeds but we deliver projects for clients across the world. We have a particular focus on the UK, EMEA and the US.

What has been your biggest design commission to date?

I have been fortunate to work on several large commissions each with its own ecosystem of challenges. High Street Quarter in Hounslow London is a great example of a large-scale mixed-use regeneration project that has directly impacted the way people live and interact. Our design provided 588 new homes, a multiscreen cinema, new shops and restaurants, all laid out around a central square which provides a new heart for the town and a welcome amenity for local residents.  Internationally, I was involved in the masterplan for Yas Island in the UAE and delivered complex retail-led skyscrapers in Bahrain and Turkey.

What does the face of architecture look like to you in 10 years time?

I believe the emphasis on ESG and how architecture connects to its communities and the environment will evolve from being perceived as a premium to just being a standard requirement. It would be great to reach a point where we no longer need the acronym!

There will also be a greater emphasis on flexibility within design, with buildings that can pivot to suit different uses and ultimately maximising their lifetime.

Technology will radically change how we, as architects and designers, practice. I’m optimistic that AI will shoulder a lot of the time spent exploring design permutations and optimising procedures, giving designers more time to engage in critical and creative thinking.

If you hadn’t become an architect what would you be doing?

A genetic scientist – I know, bizarre! I have always been fascinated by genetics and biology. I did contemplate it for a little while but realised it would be a pretty solitary career and I am a people person, so I opted for the wonderful madness of the architectural world!

tpbennett.com | IG: @tpbennettllp

Rebekah Killigrew
Rebekah Killigrewhttp://www.rebekahkilligrew.com
Editor | ww.architecturemagazine.co.uk | www.interiordesigner.co.uk

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